The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

Dunedin – Scotland, New Zealand style

Posted in Dunedin,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 17th, 2009

The second stage of my trip was all new – the city of Dunedin in the South Island. Founded by Scottish settlers, it’s proud of its heritage which is evident everywhere even today. The city’s original proposed name, “New Edinburgh” was thought would cause too much confusion with Edinburgh in Scotland so they adopted “Dunedin” – Edinburgh’s Gaelic name – instead. Being a great fan of Edinburgh myself made Dunedin an absolute must for this trip.

Dunedin’s in the south of the South Island, so if time is short the only realistic option is to fly down. I’d booked a two-stage internal flight via Christchurch. I was very impressed by the automated check in system at Auckland airport’s domestic terminal. Using touch screens and barcode scanners, you can get your boarding passes and labels for your luggage in seconds. There was someone on hand to help as I hadn’t used it before but it was all very straightforward. All I needed was my printed e-ticket and to put my bag on the conveyor at bag drop, it was brilliant.

Both flights were on Boeing 737-300s and were comfortable, with good service and ran on time. I liked the typically Kiwi Air New Zealand safety video which was gently humourous. Some good views of Auckland airport on the way out, and I was able to get some amazing photographs of the Southern Alps (all snow capped now, of course) and the Canterbury plains while approaching Christchurch. The changeover between planes was mere minutes and then it was on to Dunedin. I’m certainly glad I did my usual thing of going for window seats on short flights, even if the best views were on the other side of the aircraft from where I was both times!

The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Southern Alps from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Canterbury plains from the air – 10-Aug-2009
The flight south. The Canterbury plains from the air – 10-Aug-2009

I immediately noticed it was colder in Dunedin; although not excessive (I just had to put a jumper on) it was noticeable. The weather was slightly overcast but no rain. There was low mist hanging over the mountains which was an impressive sight. Once out of the airport it was straight onto a crammed shuttle bus; there wasn’t time to even take a picture of the famous “Southern Man” statue!

Dunedin airport is 30km from the city so I then got an improntu free tour of the area and suburbs as people were dropped off. This was really interesting. There were some really, really steep roads so I’m glad I’m not tackling Dunedin on foot! After about fifty minutes I was dropped at my motel and went to check in. I’d picked a really well placed motel, the 97 Motel Moray which is the closest motel to the centre of town and it was a very nice, comfortable unit.

Dunedin Railway Station was opened in 1906 and is reckoned to be New Zealand's most photographed building – 11-Aug-2009
Dunedin Railway Station was opened in 1906 and is reckoned to be New Zealand’s most photographed building – 11-Aug-2009

On Tuesday I picked up my hire car, a white Nissan Bluebird. As it was still early I walked around Moray Place admiring First Church and some of the other old Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Carrying on, I soon reached Dunedin Railway Station, which claims to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. I can see why, it’s Edwardian and absolutely gorgeous, both inside and out. I was intending to go on the Taieri Gorge Railway so I booked in for the trip at 12.30pm and busied myself looking around the station and taking photos of nearby buildings. The Law Courts are impressive and there’s a huge Cadburys factory across the road.

The Taieri Gorge Railway is very well set up. They use restored 1920s carriages which really added something to the experience. My seat was right at the back of the train on its own! The train was far from full, I expect it’s usually like this in winter. Then it was off, first out through the suburbs and Taieri plain and then into the gorge itself. It’s billed as one of the world’s great train journeys and I’d certainly agree with that. As a journey through stunning scenery and a tribute to an amazing feat of engineering it wins on both counts. The commentary throughout the outward trip was very informative. As I was getting lunch from the buffet car in the early part of the journey I missed some of the sights including the Wingatui Viaduct (reckoned to be the largest wrought iron structure in the southern hemisphere) but I got them on the way back! I also liked the railway house at the former crossing station at Parera, a sole dwelling in the middle of nowhere, now restored and used as a holiday home, but still with no electricity, TV or running water!

A stop for a spectacular photo opportunity, Taieri Gorge Railway – 11-Aug-2009
A stop for a spectacular photo opportunity, Taieri Gorge Railway – 11-Aug-2009

The run took around two hours to reach the end of the line at Pukerangi through mountains, tunnels, across viaducts and gullys. It was amazing. There were a couple of stops on the way to point out interesting things. Being right at the back of the train I got a fantastic view; standing on the platform at the back hanging on to the rails while trying to take photos was certainly an experience but it was well worth it.

After the briefest of stops at the end of the line – ten minutes – it was off again. I just enjoyed the scenery on the way back, taking only the occasional photo and making sure I captured the sights I missed on the way out. I got some good photos in the end although others were blurred due to the buffeting train and me hanging on to the rails for dear life rather than keeping the camera steady!

Robert Burns statue, The Octagon – 11-Aug-2009
Robert Burns statue, The Octagon – 11-Aug-2009

Once back in Dunedin – by this time the sun had come out and there was some blue sky, it had previously been an overcast day – I had a look around the Octagon which is packed full of interesting sights. The i-SITE is in an amazing building and St Paul’s Anglican cathedral is right next door, plus there’s a statue of Robert Burns right in the centre of town. There’s an old Regent cinema and the Art Gallery is also in an unusual old building. Most of these places are now cafes, bars and restaurants. That evening, I ate at Etrusco at the Savoy, an Italian restaurant just down from my motel that Steve and Cherie had recommended which was lovely, very open with pillars, large windows and a bar in the centre. The meal was terrific, probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten and I finished off with the exquisite sounding (and tasting) Hot Fudge Sundae.

One word summed up Wednesday: RAIN! I woke about 7.30am to hear it pattering on the roof. Hoping it wouldn’t be much, I looked outside but it was clearly a LOT of rain. Not torrential, but enough to cause problems and affect the day. I spent most of the day at Otago Museum which was still on my list of major things to do in Dunedin, so thankfully the time was far from wasted. The Maori and Southern People exhibition halls were exceptionally good and told me a lot about Dunedin and the Otago area. There was so much to see at the museum it easily filled the day, in fact I still only had time for a brief walk around the Peoples of the World, Pacific Cultures and Maritime halls.

On Thursday, I was delighted to see clear blue sky and a glorious day again. I had planned to visit Larnach Castle and the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head come what may, but was very relieved the weather had come out in sympathy with my need to do outdoorsy things today! Larnach Castle (billed as “New Zealand’s only castle”) is on the highest point of the Otago Peninsula and driving up the winding road, the views were simply stunning: the harbour and Dunedin on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other.

Larnach Castle, New Zealand's only castle – 13-Aug-2009
Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle – 13-Aug-2009

Although “castle” is laying it on a bit in the case of Larnach Castle, it’s still a very, very impressive building – more a stately home with battlements and a tower on top. It reminded me a bit of Portmeirion in Wales in as much as it’s the product of a single person’s unique and quirky imagination. Once I’d finished looking around the unusual gardens I had a rest stop at the cafe-restaurant in the castle’s ballroom wing. This was stunning, all wooden panelling, chandeliers, open fires and leather seating. Then I walked around and ascended the long stone staircase leading up to the front entrance, rang the doorbell and was admitted by the receptionist – how quaint.

Sadly, you can’t take photos inside the castle but the tour was superbly put together. The guide leaflet had a map and all the things of interest to look out for in each room. There was an introductory video and exhibition room outlining the story of the castle and its creator William Larnach, who was a very powerful, influential – and mercurial – figure in Dunedin and Otago in the nineteenth century.

I really enjoyed walking around and the highlight was ascending a very tight stone spiral staircase to get to the tower on top. The views were breathtaking on all sides. You could see right from Dunedin out to Taiaroa Head on the one side and the endlessness of the Pacific Ocean on the other. What a brilliant attraction Larnach Castle is, definitely one of the highlights of this trip so far.

Otago Harbour – 13-Aug-2009
Otago Harbour – 13-Aug-2009
On the way to Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula – 13-Aug-2009
On the way to Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula – 13-Aug-2009

The drive out to Taiaroa Head, right along the coast of Otago Peninsula to the tip, was breathtaking. It was worth doing it for that alone, but seeing the Head with its views was a worthy end to the journey. Sadly I couldn’t do a combined tour of Fort Taiaroa and the albatross colony as they had finished those for the day so I opted for the fort on its own. This was fascinating and the guide did a very good tour.  The fort was defensive, built in the late nineteenth century when New Zealand feared a Russian invasion and expanded in both world wars. I went down into the underground tunnels, saw the gun in its chamber, saw parts of it demonstrated, the lookout point (also glimpsed an albatross so got something extra there) and a small museum. Better than Stony Batter on Waiheke Island I think, and I loved that. Fewer tunnels and a simpler installation but unlike that one, the gun is still here and is fully working after one and a quarter centuries. I enjoyed the drive along the coast on the way back just as much, even though the light was starting to go. It’ll be something I always remember when I think of Dunedin.

On Friday it was sadly time to leave Dunedin but I still had time to fit in one final sight on my way out – Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street (authenticated by the Guinness Book of World Records, no less). I parked up on the other side of the road and walked up as far as I could, basically to where it started to get REALLY steep. There’s no way I’d have got any further but Baldwin Street was a lot more impressive to see than it sounds. Once I’d finished there it was off up State Highway 1 to my next destination, Oamaru.

You are 4!

Posted in Auckland,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 15th, 2009

Before I left Auckland, I had a very important task to perform – buying Chevelle’s birthday present for her party the next day. On Saturday, I headed off to the cumbersomely named “Westfield WestCity Henderson” mall which is the largest shopping complex in the local area. Being used to the immense Merry Hill centre at home (now also owned by Westfield), I always find it odd how each suburb has its own shopping mall but they are smaller with less choice. Often you have to try two or three before you can get what you want, if you’re looking for something obscure.

I haven’t been back to Henderson for years (I’m thinking it could be as long ago as 2001) so it was interesting to see the mall, which seems to have hardly changed. I had lunch in the food court and went to Whitcoulls (the New Zealand equivalent of WH Smith) to look for storybooks. I thought if I buy one for Chevelle I’ll probably get to read it to her! No self interest there at all then, oh no…

Uncle Adrian's careful preparations for Chevelle's 4th birthday – 08-Aug-2009
Uncle Adrian’s careful preparations for Chevelle’s 4th birthday – 08-Aug-2009

I found something perfect – My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton – so perfect in fact that I thought they’d probably have it already, but it turns out they haven’t as I called Steve to ask. Guess what? Champers, one of their cats, likes to hide in boxes. Result!

I bought the book, a nice pink bag to put it in and a 4th birthday card with a cat on, so was well pleased with those choices. In fact the book was the first I picked up off the shelf, which must’ve been an omen.

Chevelle's playhouse – 09-Aug-2009
Chevelle’s playhouse – 09-Aug-2009

I drove over to Titirangi on Sunday morning for the birthday party. Arriving at Steve and Cherie’s I saw Chevelle’s main present, a large plastic playhouse and it’s brilliant! It’s pink and white with a door and letterbox, swing out seats and a basin and mirror inside. There are even little trays for flowers to go in! Apparently the tarpaulin they had over it began to slide off in the night so Chevelle saw it first thing in the morning and was absolutely amazed. She’s going around pointing at the house saying “Mummy’s house” and then the playhouse, “MY house”! Judging by the amount of books and stuff in the playhouse it looks like she’s already preparing to move out!

She smiled and laughed when I arrived, although with two other kids there as well she was far too busy in the playhouse to take notice of anything else! I gave her my present, which she loved and it was already safely in her bookcase by the end of the day. Tania arrived with Max and then there were four bundles of energy running around at lightspeed! They played on the trampoline and in the house, ran about while Chevelle also rode her bike around. An attempt to feed the ducks was aborted when no one could find the ducks! They’d obviously taken cover (they did turn up later). Then it was time for party food so the kids all lined up as it was dished out. Cherie had done a brilliant spread, miniature spring rolls, burgers, sausages, crisps, cheese, dips etc. which were all delicious. Chevelle’s birthday cake was chocolate with bright pink icing and a silver “4” on top. The wind blew out the candles as Cherie brought it out, but Chevelle still made a valiant attempt to blow them out!

Champers. After a hard day's sleeping, it's time for a quick nap... – 09-Aug-2009
Champers. After a hard day’s sleeping, it’s time for a quick nap… – 09-Aug-2009

In the afternoon I chilled out with the grown ups as the kids bounced around on next door’s full size trampoline. This was hilarious to see. Chevelle was standing up most of the time while the others had fallen over in a heap but were still bouncing up and down!

Around 6.00pm I was called upstairs for bedtime story duty! I got to read my storybook to Chevelle and she enjoyed it so much she asked me to read it again. I also got to read another one to her. She’s very intelligent and imaginative.

A very nice pasta dinner ensued with Steve and Cherie. I talked about my road trip and they gave me lots of good advice. Cherie talked about some of their past holidays and tours of the South Island. Steve has already had to repair Chevelle’s new Barbie fairytale castle! I left around 9.30pm and felt quite emotional as I was driving away; although I’ll be back in two weeks it was sad to leave them. All in all the day was great fun and I was really pleased to be a part of it.

And so the first stage of my trip was over. Next stop Dunedin…

Bethells Beach

Posted in Auckland,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 14th, 2009

Chances are, if you’ve ever enjoyed a film or television production made in Auckland, at one time or another you will have seen one of the west coast beaches in the Waitakere ranges. Piha is the most famous and highest profile, but consequently busiest, so the others are often easier to film on. Karekare was the beach featured in the acclaimed film The Piano and Bethells Beach (or Te Henga to give it its Maori name) was first introduced to me as a very regular location in Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys where it doubled for everywhere from ancient Greece to the shores of Ireland! Since then the beach has been revisited by many of my favourite locally produced shows such as Being Eve, Outrageous Fortune and the Martin Clunes film, The Man Who Lost His Head.

Bethells Beach is a really special place even without all these connections to popular culture. It has all sorts of interesting and spectacular scenery including a very distinctive headland, a large cave (only accessible at low tide), a couple of islands and some great spots for sitting, chilling out and just watching the waves breaking on the shore.

The cave, Bethells Beach. This can only be entered at low tide – 08-Aug-2009
The cave, Bethells Beach. This can only be entered at low tide – 08-Aug-2009
The island, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
The island, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009

I’ve been there so many times now I’ve lost count, but just never get tired of it. On the Saturday before I left on my road trip it was time for the obligatory return visit to Bethells, so Chris and I headed out at 3.00pm. We had to “get a wriggle on” (to use a local expression) as there were only a couple of hours of light left. We drove there via Swanson, one of my lesser travelled routes and then up Waitakere Road and Bethells Road.

Bethells Beach, looking north – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, looking north – 08-Aug-2009

The beach was busy that day – we saw a surfer, a kite flyer, lots of dog walkers and even someone flying a model aeroplane. There was also a fashion shoot going on as we arrived – a dark haired model in a long white dress was posing for photos up in the dunes. It was a really nice day with little wind. I got some great pictures of the waves breaking and of the sun above the north end of the beach.

We walked all the way down to the cave and back, although I kept my distance as there were some boisterous youths larking around there who I wanted to avoid. The sunset was largely obscured by cloud but still bathed the beach in a magical light and the walk back to the car at dusk was equally pleasant.

Bethells Beach, looking south – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, looking south – 08-Aug-2009
Sand dunes, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
Sand dunes, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, southern end – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, southern end – 08-Aug-2009
Chris at the cave, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
Chris at the cave, Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, looking north – 08-Aug-2009
Bethells Beach, looking north – 08-Aug-2009
Sunset at Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009
Sunset at Bethells Beach – 08-Aug-2009

As well as lots of photos, I shot some video on my phone of the beach, something I’m trying to do at all the notable sights this time. The route back was via Te Henga Road and Scenic Drive which is always an interesting journey. Personally, my visits to New Zealand are never complete without a trip to Bethells Beach so it was good to have an opportunity to go back to this old favourite.

Auckland – back in the City of Sails

Posted in Auckland,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 8th, 2009

I have had a brilliant week back in Auckland, the place I regard as my second home. The weather has been amazing; sunny and largely cloudless every day. I’ve been so lucky. You wouldn’t believe it’s winter, apart from the fact it’s colder than normal. On Thursday it was so hot I had to roll up my sleeves and wished I’d brought a hat to shield me from the sun! I know I’ve had it easy and I’m sure I’ll get a rude awakening, weather wise, down in the South Island next week, but it couldn’t have worked out better so far.

Sky Tower, Auckland city – 04-Aug-2009
Sky Tower, Auckland city – 04-Aug-2009

On Tuesday I spent most of the day wandering around the city centre, and shopping. There’s so much to do on Queen Street, Auckland’s main drag. I had lunch with Steve in the IMAX centre’s food court and stocked up on some local DVDs and CDs courtesy of Marbecks, my favourite record shop here. Had a walk along Harbourside, the marina and the former Americas Cup village. Not much has changed in the city; the odd new or altered building here and there but otherwise it’s all very comfortable and familiar ground. It’s nice to be back.

Later on Tuesday I went over to Steve and Cherie’s for dinner and was quickly commandeered for bedtime story duty in Steve’s absence! It was a lovely moment, I really enjoyed it. Chevelle was laughing and giggling all the time. I often can’t tell what she’s saying and just laugh along with her which just makes her giggle more. She’s full of energy even before bedtime! Apparently she loved the story. Phew!

Over dinner they both recommended I stop in Oamaru rather than Timaru as there’s much more interesting stuff to see in Oamaru, including a penguin colony, just the sort of thing I like. It’s also a good base for starting the trip to the lakes. I like this idea and think I might rethink my plans so I can do it.

I drove down to Huia on Wednesday. This is very close to where I am based but, surprisingly, I’ve never been there before. There were stunning views from the lookout at Huia Point, of Huia itself, Manukau harbour and out to the Manukau heads. I also spent some time in Little Huia which is a beautiful, relaxed and peaceful spot.

View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009
View from Huia Point – 05-Aug-2009

I enjoyed a fun lunch with Cherie and Chevelle on Thursday where we had the famous Kiwi delicacy of “fush and chups”! This is a treat in between Chevelle’s swimming class in the morning and kindergarten in the afternoon so it was nice to be part of it this time. I ended up staying for the afternoon so was there to pick up Chevelle from kindy as well which was fun to see. My work colleagues might be envious to hear that there are only twenty kids in the kindergarten shared between four teachers! Chevelle was still bouncing around full of energy. Usually Cherie walks back home to wear her out but this time we were in the car – “hmmm, looks like it should’ve been a walking day”, she said!

Back home I read Chevelle some poems from her book, including a new one she’d stuck in today which was great fun and then it was out to play! She started on her trampoline and bounced up and down like crazy! I got some really funny pictures. After that hour, I’m now an expert in throw and catch, spinning around in a circle as fast as I can, shooting a miniature basketball hoop, running along behind a bike (with stabilisers) and balancing a ball on my head. I was exhausted but it was fantastic fun! Chevelle’s a great little girl. Hopefully I’d worn her out enough for Steve and Cherie to get a peaceful night!

ZK-LAT at Ardmore Airport – 07-Aug-2009
ZK-LAT at Ardmore Airport – 07-Aug-2009

I had a great day out with Chris on Friday. We went to Ardmore Airport first to have a look around. This is a busy general aviation airfield so there is lots to see. Chris told me of his exploits at engineering school here many years ago. They used to build all sorts of fantastical contraptions just to pass the time, that’s when they weren’t chatting up the trainee teachers at the teaching college that was also here! We parked up by the runway and watched quite a few take offs and landings, some better than others as the student pilots were obviously out practising!

Then it was off to Hunua Falls which is always a nice run through the Hunua ranges. The falls were fuller than I’d ever seen them and the pool was noticeably higher. We went down to the bottom to take some photos and Chris, in typical Chris style, charged off climbing up the rocks to get photos from the far side. I preferred to stick to the proper walking tracks that are within my capabilities. We went to the lower lookout and then to a track marked “No Access to Waterfall”. This must be the unacknowledged “abseil track” – yes, people do abseil down the side of the falls! I quickly saw it would be too much for me to climb but Chris set off with the intention of going all the way up. I returned to the lower lookout and waited for any sightings of him at the top of the falls!

Hunua Falls – 07-Aug-2009
Hunua Falls – 07-Aug-2009

I wondered whether or not to do the upper lookout track, but ended up sitting in the lower lookout. It was good to spend some time just relaxing and enjoying this beautiful place. Although there were no signs of Chris at the top of the falls (I found out later he had gone up but didn’t want to risk going past all the fences and warning signs) but we met later by the pool. I gingerly made my way over to the far side from the lower lookout steps (it involved climbing down some high rocks which was a bit hairy) and took some great photos from this close, unusual angle underneath the falls.

After a lunch stop at a rustic wooden building amusingly called a “supermarket” – it’s the only shop for about ten miles – we headed back via Clevedon village and the east coast. We saw the Firth of Thames and the Coromandel in the distance and later Waiheke Island while going through Maraetai. We stopped off at Murphy’s Bush for a quick look around. This is typical of the unusual natural sights you can find in New Zealand – a small area of undisturbed bush, with a cleared section in the middle but right by the main roads. Inside you really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and the bush must go on for miles, the effect is uncanny. Once finished here, we drove back towards the city. It’s always good to go out with Chris as he takes you on very unusual routes and this was no exception.

This week has been really good – totally packed with varied activities. It’s been every bit as enjoyable as my more conventional trips in the summer. I’m so glad to be back here.

Happy anniversary!

Posted in Auckland,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 3rd, 2009

Jet lag’s got me again, 3.30am and I was wide awake! Later I was delighted to see blue sky out of the window as dawn broke. It turned out to be a lovely day and I started in coat and jumper but could have easily ended up in a T-shirt, really warm. This is my first experience of New Zealand in winter. I am finding it much colder here than usual, when it is cold, but it’s very tolerable in comparison to winter at home!

It has been fantastic having my new netbook – a Samsung N110 – with me; in many ways it was an impulse purchase but I absolutely love it. It’s been so useful being able to keep up with friends at home and all the fun and games on Facebook!

Chris and I had some breakfast and then headed out to Manukau to pick up my hire car. I’ve hired from this place several times before and everything worked out really well. I have a lovely blue Toyota Starlet which I was able to get back into driving effortlessly having had them before. So far, I’ve been able to navigate around Auckland without looking at the map once, not bad considering I haven’t been here for four years. We stopped at a shopping centre on the way back. The sky was a glorious blue as an Emirates plane – which I think was EK406 that I was on this time yesterday – roared overhead, really low on approach to the airport. Hope they had a better flight than I did!

After lunch at my favourite kebab place it was time to head over to Steve and Cherie’s as I had been invited to their anniversary party; it’s ten years since they moved to New Zealand. Wow, ten years. I was their first visitor then and now I’m back! It meant so much to me to be able to be there.

It was a great feeling driving in and being greeted by Cherie, Steve and Chevelle. I still can’t quite believe I’m here to do this! They made a huge fuss of me and even Chevelle put her arms around me! What a lovely little girl she is. She remembered me from when I met up with them in Liverpool last year and I can’t believe how much she’s talking! I found out later it’s her fourth birthday party next weekend and I’ll be able to go. We had a brilliant afternoon, great company and full of laughs permeated by buffet snacks and awesome pizzas courtesy of Steve in full chef mode. I met a couple of their friends and their kids, reacquainted with the next door neighbours and it was particularly great to see Tania and Mike (Cherie’s sister and brother in law) again, with Max who was a lump in Tania’s tummy last time I was here! Chevelle had a great time riding her bike and playing with the other kids. There were zombies, monsters and all kinds of things going on! I loved looking at the new photos on the walls, of Chevelle, Steve and Cherie’s wedding and some new family photos, I found it quite overwhelming and emotional. My only regret from today is that I didn’t get chance to take any photos, but I’m sure Chevelle’s birthday party will make up for that!

By the evening people started to go, but I stayed until around 9.00pm. We caught up, watched some videos but I was seriously flagging by this point. Steve said I should go back to Chris’ while I was still able to drive, so I said my goodbyes. They both made a big fuss of me as I left and said how wonderful it was I was here again, especially as it had fallen into place at such short notice. I agree, not least because of them. They’ve done so much for me and bring so much fun and happiness into my life.

Overall this was an exceptional start to my holiday, what a brilliant day! Here’s to the next ten years…

The longest day

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 2nd, 2009

People say I must be off my rocker to do the entire journey from the UK to New Zealand – just about the longest of long hauls – in one go, and after the last 24 hours, I’m sure they’re probably right!

Fortunately there were no problems with my Emirates booking, although I did somehow lose one of my boarding passes within seconds of them giving it to me! Fortunately they called me back and it was sorted immediately with the only embarrassment being having my name called out over the tannoy for the entire airport to hear!

I found Birmingham airport a pleasant place to fly from, much lower key and more sedate than the bedlam that is Heathrow. The first leg, 7 hours to Dubai was relatively comfortable. It was on a Boeing 777 with plenty of leg room and I had an empty seat next to me which always helps. The in-flight entertainment system on Emirates was superb… I was a happy, happy chappy when I discovered they now have front and downward cameras on the aircraft so you can watch the views outside as you fly! As this was an overnight flight, all I could see was darkness, but never mind! As usual I was only able to doze (I joked with myself that I must have had a “NASA power nap”, the 23 minute doze the astronauts used to do on missions) but it must have worked as it got me through the flight.

I was looking forward to hopefully seeing some spectacular sights in Dubai on the way down, or at least from the airport. No such luck. As far as the eye could see the air was a murky brown – fog/smog – so I couldn’t see a thing!. After a long, long and uncomfortable drive to the terminal (it seemed to take about 50 years to get there!) we were unloaded into the transit area. I expected something really spectacular from Dubai airport, and while it is that, I came away disappointed. The duty free stuff is laid out along a lengthy concourse. It was a long walk, there wasn’t much to see and, most annoyingly, there was nowhere to sit down! In the end I just went to my gate. I had a nice chat over text with my friend Jas from work who’s also in Dubai at the moment and couldn’t believe I’d got in touch!

Then it was onto the next flight. This time we were on an Airbus A340. At 18 hours in total, with a stop at Melbourne, this was going to be a real endurance test. I’ve done longer than that in one go before, but never with a stop involved. On the plus side, the cabin service from Emirates was outstanding; they are certainly among my top preferred carriers now. On this flight I also had the company of a guy who is a police detective in Dubai and was very interesting to talk to; we swapped email addresses so it’s good to know if I’m ever in Dubai I’ll have police protection! Unfortunately this was where the good aspects ended.

The A340 is not really suitable for a flight of this duration I feel; leg room was very cramped and the seat wasn’t comfortable either upright or reclined. Great I thought, 18 hours of this. Then the in-flight entertainment system failed (damn them, I wanted to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine!) which took hours to fix. It was odd being on the user end of an IT problem for a change! Then I realised I was sitting near to the flight’s complainer, a curmudgeonly old man who was repeatedly rude and unreasonable to the cabin crew about the most trivial of things. I was quite amused when one of the flight attendants spilled a drink on his trousers towards the end – good for her! I couldn’t have slept if I’d tried, there was just no way I could get comfortable in the seat. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased and relieved to land in my life!

At Melbourne all us transit passengers were made to disembark, effectively walk around in a circle back to where we’d been before and go through three security checkpoints on the way for our trouble. Totally pointless. Then the flight was delayed several times while the plane was prepared. While I waited I texted my mate Matt Melbourne with “Hi from Melbourne!” Some things you’ve just got to do…

Then it was finally time for the last push to Auckland. I was so tired by now that my eyes were streaming, although I did doze off for about an hour which helped. I awaited the first sighting of NZ on the front camera as we crossed the Tasman. Approaching Auckland, we dipped below the cloud level and I saw RAIN! Torrential rain. Oh well, I’ve picked a nice day for it I thought. It is my second home but I wasn’t expecting quite such a literal reminder of home! Some drama on the way down. There was obvious turbulence and low down they had to abort, power up and go around again. The second attempt was clearly a struggle for them as well as the plane was veering all over the place on the runway, but we did eventually reach terra firma safely.

I’d been warned about the changes to Auckland airport, but it is bewilderingly different which really threw me. I joked with the guy at the duty free shop that I couldn’t find anything any more! Then, visitor’s permit issued and suitcase safely collected, it was out through the final security check to see Chris waiting for me in the arrivals hall – a very welcome sight!

Chris was amused having witnessed our aborted landing and some of the others coming in hoping they’d actually manage to find the runway. In typical Chris style he got stuck in helping some of my fellow arrivals from Dubai with a flat tyre they’d had after they asked to borrow a wheel brace in the car park. They were as unimpressed with the Dubai to Auckland experience as I was!

It’s been a long time coming but it feels great to be back in New Zealand.

The day of departure…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 30th, 2009

The suitcases are packed, lists all ticked off and I’m starting to feel less stressed about planning the trip which means I must be ready to go!

It’s all gone pretty smoothly – the only hitch was Emirates’ web site didn’t let me complete the advance online check-in procedure, tersely telling me “Your transaction could not be completed. Please report to the airport and contact a member of airline staff”. Gulp. If I’m back posting here tonight, you’ll know they’ve decided not to take me!

Quite a lot is different this time – it’ll be my first time transiting through Dubai and Melbourne plus the 28 hour 25 minute flight is evenly split into three legs which should hopefully make it more bearable. It’s already been a big improvement being able to fly from Birmingham as I’d normally be chugging along on a coach on the way down to Heathrow right now, rather than relaxing at home with a nice cup of tea!

Four days to go…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 27th, 2009

It’s difficult to believe that at the end of this week I’ll be on the other side of the planet! That thought always leaves me in awe…

Steve has been in touch after I asked advice about how best to approach New Zealand in winter, which will be a totally new experience for me this time:

“Pack for cool/cold Auckland and bloody cold/freezing South Island. For South Island think Scotland.”

Looks like I’ll be needing those thermal socks Mom bought after all!

A week to go…

Posted in Before,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on July 23rd, 2009

My sixth trip to New Zealand will take place from Thursday 30th July to Tuesday 25th August 2009.

My itinerary is: Auckland -> Coromandel -> Auckland -> Dunedin -> Lake Tekapo -> Lake Pukaki -> Timaru -> Christchurch -> Southern Alps -> Greymouth -> Southern Alps -> Christchurch -> Kaikoura -> Christchurch -> Auckland.

Reassuringly, after five previous trips almost everything this time will be entirely new to me. Apart from Auckland which is always my base, I’ve only previously been to Christchurch and that was a few years ago now; I was also on foot so stayed largely in the city, whereas this time I’ll have a car. I was struggling to find a new angle for this trip when Chris (who I’ll be staying with this time) suggested taking the TranzAlpine train, a brilliant idea which caused everything else to fall into place.

It’ll be winter in the southern hemisphere which isn’t ideal, but I’m being positive and thinking of it as seeing the country in a different light – a whole new experience. Plus I imagine the Southern Alps will look beautiful in winter. The timing’s also significant for another reason – it’s exactly ten years since Steve and Cherie emigrated; I was their first visitor then and now a shade off a decade on I’m back!

I used to go to New Zealand for a month every year, but there has been quite a gap. I was last there in February 2005, so a return is very long overdue. I’m flying with Emirates for the first time, and that’ll also mean I can go from Birmingham which should make the epic journey somewhat easier. The long coach ride down to Heathrow always made me feel like I’d already been travelling for a day before even taking off, so it’ll be great to lose that not least because it also means I won’t have to suffer the indignities of travelling with National Express. Last time, on the way back after a 12,000 mile journey, their coach broke down 30 miles from home. “It’s a good job we don’t run an airline” they said. I didn’t laugh…

This trip became possible at terrifyingly short notice – only four weeks in advance, so I’m quite reassured how prepared I am. In fact this is the most I’ve sorted out beforehand for any of my trips despite feeling a bit “rusty” due to not having done any major travelling for a while. The internal flights and car hires are booked so there’s only accommodation to go and I’ll do that in the first week after I arrive.

So now I’ve just got to concentrate on sorting everything out so I can actually get there!